I acknowledge some very senior people from the Mullingar rotary club and its president, Councillor Robert Troy, who have visited the House today to be present for the tributes that are about to be paid. I welcome them to the House.
I wish to convey my sincere condolences, and those of my Fianna Fáil colleagues, to Seán Keegan's wife, Mary, and his children, Maria, Nan, Nuala, Tom and Gearóid on the sad loss of a very fine man. He was a loyal and loving husband, a dedicated father and a loyal servant of the people of County Westmeath.
Seán was truly committed to the people of Longford-Westmeath and worked tirelessly on their behalf in the county council, Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann. He was a committed republican and a politician who took great pride in representing the people of County Westmeath. As many of his friends in both Houses will know, Seán came from a patriotic family with a strong background in public service. His father was active in the War of Independence and Seán developed a strong association with many of the founding fathers of the Fianna Fáil party. He was a true supporter of core values and was steadfast in his belief of what they stood for.
Seán Keegan was first elected to Westmeath County Council in 1955, when Éamon de Valera was leader of Fianna Fáil, and was the youngest council member elected. He entered Dáil Éireann in 1977 but by that time was considered an established Member of Leinster House. Seán was first elected to Seanad Éireann in a 1970 by-election and was re-elected to the Seanad in 1973. In the general election of 1977 he received such overwhelming support from the people of Longford-Westmeath that his surplus allowed Albert Reynolds be elected to Dáil Éireann for the first time.
Seán served with great distinction on many committees and in many areas of the county. He was a member of the vocational education committee, VEC, in County Westmeath, the Westmeath Agricultural Committee, the Midland Health Board and Westmeath Health Board during the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. Seán was a member of the Council of Europe, Mullingar Chamber of Commerce and many clubs in Kilbeggan, Castletown Geoghegan, Ballinagore, Horseleap, Dysart and all the surrounding areas where he served with great pride for many years. He was also president of Fianna Fáil's Westmeath Comhairle Dáil Ceantar.
I remember Seán as a dependable courteous person who was a gentleman to those he worked with and those he met on life's highways and byways. I went door to door with him often and attended many cumann meetings in parishes and at crossroads throughout the county for many years. He was committed to the framework of the cumann and believed if it was not served and the parishes looked after the organisation would disappear. He was a keen contributor at the council and at parliamentary party meetings, particularly on issues relating to rural Ireland and his beloved midlands.
Throughout his time in Leinster House Seán was a dedicated, hard-working Member and viewed it as an honour to represent the people of his constituency. He worked diligently to improve the quality of life of all those in his community, especially the less well-off. To sum up this tribute in a sentence, Seán Keegan was champion of the underprivileged. He stayed up day and night working as hard as possible to help those most in need. I know this through witnessing his work at first hand on dozens of occasions.
Seán will be sadly missed by his wife, Mary, his five children and his extended family and friends. We, on this side of the House, will remember him as a loyal and faithful friend who served in both Houses of the Oireachtas, at local government level and worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents. The people of Longford-Westmeath have lost a loyal and true friend. Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.